|There's more to Berkeley than the University of
California. While the campus may be the city's economic and cultural
nexus, Berkeley's neighborhoods are as distinctive as they are diverse.
From the scruffy countercultural appeal of Telegraph Avenue to the
Olympian grandeur of the hills and the post-industrial hip of Fourth
Street, the communities of Berkeley all celebrate the citys iconoclastic
but self-assured character.
Perennially ranked among the top three universities in the country, the University of California Berkeley has much to offer visitors as well as students: museums, libraries, superb views from the Campanile, public lectures by Nobel Laureates, world class entertainment, NCAA sports. The main campus is situated with a compact elegance at the base of the rugged hills that are home to the Strawberry Canyon recreational area and the Lawrence science facilities. Campus life for Cals 35,000 students centers (inasmuch as it centers at all) on Sproul Plaza and Sather Gate. In the sunny plaza in front of the administration building, one finds dozens of student organizations staffing tables at lunchtime. Though nowadays you'll be far more likely to see the Christian Students Ministry recruiting undergraduates than the Spartacist Youth League, a reminder of Berkeleys place in American social history can be found in the form a plaque on the stairs in front of Sproul Hall marking the spot where Mario Savio launched the Free Speech movement in 1964.
Telegraph Avenue & South Berkeley
Telegraph Avenue, for three generations the engine of Berkeleys militant counterculture, is a vibrant, living anthropological museum. Still-angry radicals draft leftist tracts in the Caffe Mediterraneum. Aging hippies sell tie-dye and macramé from sidewalk tables next to Rastas offering knit tam oshanters and hemp advocates hawking bumper stickers. Knots of disaffected young punks in black leather set up camp on the curb. The inevitable "Berkeley Crazy" floats through the crowd, talking animatedly to unseen companions. For the thousands of undergraduates who do their business on "The Ave.," however, its all just background (or foreground) to the eateries, record barns, clothing outlets, and bookstores lining the four blocks between Bancroft and Dwight. Rasputins and Amoeba Records, Shambhala Booksellers, Moes and Codys have ardent, cult-like followings after decades in business on Telegraph. The street merchants, who sell their wares weekdays on the sidewalks, spill into the street en masse on Sundays, when traffic is diverted away from Telegraph. History buffs can see Peoples Park by wandering up Haste or Dwight a hundred meters or so east (toward the hills), but in truth the scruffy and overgrown lot tends to attract a rather seedy crowd and is best avoided, especially at night.
Further south, Telegraph widens and begins to feature more conventional businesses such as doctors offices, photo finishing labs, and gas stations. South Berkeley as a whole, with its quiet neighborhoods of small bungalow homes, lacks the multicultural ferment of the area near the campus. There are scattered attractions for the visitor, however: epicures and organic food lovers flock to the large Whole Foods at Telegraph and Ashby and to the landmark Berkeley Bowl (justly famed for its voluminous produce section) at Shattuck and Russell. Retro-rockers can find used tube amps and guitars at Univibe (Adeline near Ashby), and Flints Bar-B-Q devotees are legion (ask for the pork slab). Bison Brewing is a favorite on Lower Telegraph. At the Ashby BART station, the Saturday flea market has been drawing big crowds of bargain hunters for thirty years.
A mere block from campus, downtown Berkeley has been trying for years to shake off the brown-brick fustiness of a college-town mercantile district. Its retail clout has been outstripped by the far hipper Fourth Street Shopping Area. The citys cultural and civic nerve center, and home to the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, downtown Berkeley seems to be finding its stride again as an entertainment and dining center. In truth, its long served that function; the grand old movie houses along and just off Shattuck have made a successful transition to multiplexes, however, and draw crowds every night. Cheery, casual dining, particularly on Center Street, is the style here. Around the corner on Shattuck, successful brew pub Jupiter packs crowds on weekends with live music.
As Berkeleys main east-west thoroughfare, University Avenue makes up in sheer traffic what it lacks in style. At the Shattuck and University hub, bicycle dealers, inexpensive ethnic restaurants, and computer stores (emphasis on the Mac here - Berkeley is the home of the world-renowned Berkeley Macintosh Users Group [BMUG]) are foremost. The ethnic restaurant theme continues down University though patches of Central America, Thailand and China until eventually settling on India. Lower University Avenue has in fact been called Little India: dozens of Indian restaurants, sari, grocery, video and utensil stores cater to the East Bays large East Indian community. Among the best and most user-friendly of these is Bombay Bazaar, whose selection of foods, spices, clothing, incense, musical instruments, and books attracts Indian and non-Indian alike.
Formerly a rugged, gritty industrial district, Fourth Street between Hearst and Cedar now generates more retail tax revenue for the city than the whole of downtown Berkeley. Fourth Street has become the apex of yuppie style. The racks of its boutiques tend towards a certain unstructured, natural look. Audiophiles, epicurean gardeners, home decorators, and the ubiquitous foodie are all catered to here as nowhere else. Fourth Street has become successful, many feel, not just by featuring the right things, but by creating the right environment. The shopping area is attractively styled, pedestrian oriented, and encourages gathering. Without as much fanfare as the Fourth Street Shopping District, but equally indicative of West Berkeleys economic transformation, a slew of new residential and office space has also taken shape along Fifth Street and west of University as far as Emeryville. Industrial materials like corrugated aluminum and a deconstructed design program have gone to create a whole neo-Bauhaus look, favored by the architects, designers, new media studios, and young professionals who've moved into the area.
The Berkeley Hills
The resolutely residential redoubt of the Berkeley Hills offers some of the finest views to be had in the entire Bay Area. Homes here are handsome but unshowy. The attraction is the aforementioned view of lower Berkeley, San Francisco, Marin, and the bridges, as well as the Olympian feeling of being literally above it all. The only thing approaching a commercial establishment in the hills is the Lawrence Hall of Science, a beautifully laid out, hands-on science museum with years of experience at kindling scientific wonder in the younger set. Tilden Regional Park, just beyond the crest of the hill, is the jewel of the East Bay Regional Park District. Hiking, mountain-biking, lake swimming, and a miniature steam train can all be enjoyed within its hundreds of wild, undeveloped acres of scrub oak and manzanita country. On the other side of Grizzly Peak Road, U.C. Berkeleys extensive holdings drop through eucalyptus groves down to the main campus, offering students and visitors miles of challenging hiking and running trails.
Those wanting to explore the hills are advised to bring either cardiovascular fitness or simply a car, and they should expect to get lost. Except for Centennial and brutally straight Marin Street, streets here wander upwards in an aimless, criss-crossing, spaghetti-like fashion. Do not attempt this for the first time in the fog.
The commercial face of Elmwood, a genteel alternative to the countercultural hurly-burly of Telegraph Avenue, is confined to a scant three blocks around College Avenue and Ashby Street. The Elmwoods culinary status, however, is out of proportion to its size, with two wildly popular Italian trattorias (Locanda Olmo and Trattoria La Siciliana), a fine Italian deli (A.G. Ferrari), a bakery, a dessert place (Just Desserts), a creperie (Voulez-Vous), a cafe offering hot entrees (Espresso Roma), three excellent Chinese restaurants (Shen Hua, Hai Loon King, and Shin Jin), and a Kosher spot (Holy Land) within two blocks'to name but a few. Nor is there a shortage of specialty retail establishments - four or five businesses sell antiques and oriental rugs, Sweet Dreams Candy Store offers toys, fashion (and, if all else fails) candy for kids, and the Tail of the Yak has a gift selection as indescribable as its name suggests. The quiet side streets of the Elmwood are filled with stately, dark-shingled homes inspired by West Coast Arts & Crafts architects Green and Greene and Bernard Maybeck. At the upper end of Ashby one comes upon the white-towered, fairy tale splendor of the Claremont Resort and Spa, which caters equally to meeting-goers and tennis players.
At the geographic and spiritual center of North Shattuck streets famed Gourmet Ghetto is Chez Panisse, Alice Waters' shrine of California Cuisine. Within a block or two of Chez Panisse are wildy popular Cha-Am, The Cheese Board, Vegi Food China (home to what may be the best sweet and sour walnuts in the world), the exotic produce section of Monterey Market, epicurean Andronicos, and FatApples, whose brobdingnagian pies are the stuff of legend. Book lovers also flock to independent Black Oak Books for readings, slightly superior salespersons, and a broad selection, both new and used. Residentially, North Berkeley, favored by U.C. professors, is the quiet, unfussy, but attractive continuation of the Berkeley Hills, indeed, Euclid Street, if patiently followed to its end, leads onto Grizzly Peak Road, and thence back around to Tilden Regional Park.
Solano Avenue, skewing across the border between Berkeley and Albany, continues North Berkeleys culinary focus, with an array of restaurants potentially fatal to the indecisive. Adjanta, Cactus Taqueria, and Sweet Basil are among the many draws that make this such a challenging area in which to park. Pegasus Books is another new & used favorite.
Across the Oakland border from the Elmwood, Rockridge/College Avenue Shopping District still looks and feels enough like Berkeley to confuse visitors. Its considerably larger than the tiny Elmwood Shopping District, however, with cute shops, boutiques, markets and restaurants stretching for almost a mile from Alcatraz until College ends at The California College of Arts and Crafts campus, and homes running west towards the freeway and east into the hills. Cute without being cloying, bustling Rockridge is a vital and racially diverse neighborhood with one of the most intriguing commercial districts in the East Bay.
Food is king in Rockridge: while North Berkeleys Gourmet Ghetto still gets the ink, this is the new destination for foodies. The European-influenced Rockridge Market Hall is a labyrinth of stalls selling exquisite stuffed pastas, olive oil, imported cheese, fresh-baked bread, teas, coffees, fish, wine, meat, beautiful produce, and flowers. Grace Baking, Great Harvest Bread Company, Semifreddis and La Farine are nearby Rockridge bakeries with ardent followings. Non-vegetarians from all over the county form lines out the door of VerBrugge Meats, Poultry and Fish. Oliveto, Garibaldis, and other Rockridge restaurants have made their mark on the Bay Areas culinary map, as well. Domestic comfort is another Rockridge speciality. For comfy clothes for grown-ups and kids, visit Cotton Basics, Cotton and Company, the Birkenstocks outlet, and the two Baby World stores. The Claremont Rug Company, Hazara Gallery, and Levant all sell fine, collectable rugs, and Fenton MacLaren and Rockridge Antiques carry solidly crafted American wood furniture.
In the last 10 years, working class, industrial Emeryville has burst onto the scene as the hot place to build a concept mall, hotel complex, or dotcom office. The Emery Bay Public Market, with its highly successful international food court, Borders Books & Music, and art-deco inspired decaplex theater, helped kick off the citys renaissance, along with a nearby "big box" shopping center, where Home Depot, Office Max and CompUSA ring up high volume sales and create traffic problems. Adding to the arterial blockage along the I-80 corridor is Emeryvilles gargantuan new IKEA outlet. While Emeryvilles residential demographics are still predominantly low-income, dotcommers and other young professionals are moving into new condominiums and Neo-Bauhaus lofts sprouting up near the design studios, new media enterprises, and software companies that hug I-80. Emeryvilles go-go business climate, in stark contrast to development-phobic Berkeley next door, has attracted not only IKEA, but also Sybase, PeopleSoft, and a number of other expanding hi-tech businesses looking for new headquarters.
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